"Barack Obama doesn't care about white people!"
No, country star Taylor Swift didn't say that about the president. Nor did any of the entertainers who performed on a telethon to raise money for victims of the historic floods ravaging parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. None accused the Obama administration of indifference or lack of attentiveness to these floods.
Swift, who contributed $500,000, was one of many stars who appeared on this fundraiser put on by the Nashville NBC affiliate, WSMV, and carried by other Tennessee stations.
In 2005, a Hurricane Katrina relief telethon was carried live on CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC and more than 25 other channels. A separate telethon was broadcast on MTV, VH1 and CMT. During a Katrina fundraiser, rapper Kayne West accused President George W. Bush of indifference to the plight of those suffering. West said, "George W. Bush doesn't care about black people."
Hurricane Katrina was catastrophic. It caused over 1,500 deaths, with property damage estimated at near $100 billion and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. The failures of local and state responders, the widely criticized federal response and subsequent finger pointing made a tragically newsworthy story even more so.
And, at the moment, there is no shortage of significant news. Major stories include the naturalized American Muslim terrorist who admitted placing a car bomb in Times Square. An underwater oil rig erupted in the Gulf of Mississippi, creating the largest domestic oil spill since the Exxon Valdez. Arizona passed a controversial anti-illegal alien law that critics claim "legalizes racial profiling." Greece faces a financial collapse.
But has the traditional media devoted the time and attention warranted by the historic floods?
"We have been astonished by the lack of national coverage of this disaster," Elden Hale, general manager of Nashville's WSMV, told me. He acknowledged that the story competed with the Times Square terrorist and the Gulf oil spill. He said, "But still..."
How big a deal are these floods?
Hale said his area received 15 inches of rain in two days, a phenomenon of "biblical proportions." People, he said, still haven't grasped the dimensions of this disaster. The rainfalls are the highest since records have been kept. The resulting floods have been described as the greatest tragedy to hit the area since the Civil War. So far, 30 peopled are listed dead, the count expected to grow as floods recede and bodies are recovered. "Rivers have been created where none existed before," Hale said, "and people who've lost homes didn't carry flood insurance because these areas never flooded before."
Why haven't the floods gotten more attention?
"I don't want to get into that," Hale said, "but you and I both know they care more about the two coasts than they do Middle America." Did NBC network express any interest in airing the telethon? "No," Hale said, "but in fairness I didn't offer it to them. We intended for it to be a local affair."
As to the lack of media interest, a Newsweek senior writer tried to explain. Unlike the Times Square and oil rig stories, he wrote, the floods lacked "plot twists," a "political hook," and the "Nashville narrative wasn't compelling enough to break the cycle."
No plot twists? No political hook? Not compelling enough?
People killed. Extensive property damage. Worst rainfall in recorded history. Cultural and historic places flooded, like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the legendary Grand Ole Opry. None of that cuts it?
In his piece "We Are Nashville," Tennesee writer Patten Fuqua said: "Parts of Nashville that could never even conceivably be underwater were underwater. Some of them still are. Opry Mills and the Opryland Hotel are, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. People died sitting in standstill traffic on the Interstate. We saw boats going down West End. And, of course, we all saw the surreal image of the portable building from Lighthouse Christian floating into traffic and being destroyed when cars were knocked into it. I'm still having trouble comprehending all of it."
Consider some alternate explanations for the media's comparative lack of interest:
-- Those affected, residents and officials, didn't blame others. WSMV general manager Hale praised the spirit of Tennessee. His station, organizers and entertainers came together with two days notice. Quoting one of his news anchors, Hale said, "'Volunteerism is in our DNA.' When the Red Cross came in they were surprised because so much had already been done."
-- The media's beloved Obama failed to carry Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. Those states, alien (if not enemy) territory, are simply of minor importance. It's just hard to feel those folks' pain.
-- One Bush critic argued that the president didn't care about New Orleans because it is "black" and "sexy." Perhaps the media's indifference to Nashville is because that city is "only" 25 percent black, and therefore "white and redneck."
-- Non-Obama voting, self-reliant "Hee-Haw'ers" who aren't blaming somebody for their troubles just don't make for big news.
Where's the race card when you need it?